The final of the Men’s Singles in the 134th US Open is all set for Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, and it’s not exactly the final that many would have predicted a fortnight ago when play began at Flushing Meadows.
Two first time major finalists face off at around 22:00 UK time when we’re expecting temperatures around the 24C mark, with fairly high humidity and perhaps more of an issue could be the 15mph winds.
Marin Cilic vs Kei Nishikori
My betting records only go back for around 10 years, but during that time never have two underdogs won in the semi finals of the US Open – until this year.
Marin Cilic crushed Roger Federer in three pretty one-sided sets to leave my 3-1 to Federer bet in tatters on Saturday night after the rain delay, while Kei Nishikori stunned world number one Novak Djokovic.
Underdogs rarely win in Grand Slam semi finals, but Cilic was far too good for Federer in a controlled display that was virtually totally free of the ups and downs that usually go hand in hand with the Croat’s tennis.
It was certainly the best performance I can recall seeing from Cilic and while it wasn’t Federer at the top of his game it was very much Cilic at the top of his and the latter will rise to number nine in the world rankings if he wins on Monday.
I’ve mentioned the improvements on serve a few times this week and that worked well again for Cilic against Federer, but it was the willingness to hit closer to the lines, take more risks and increased consistency that marked him out from the Cilic of old.
He’ll face a better returner in the form of Nishikori on Monday though, and an opponent who has by and large had his number in their previous career meetings.
Nishikori has won five of their seven past encounters, but probably only the two this season are even slightly relevant, with both players improving markedly since their first clash at Indian Wells back in 2008.
Both went the way of Nishikori in 2014, with the Japanese winning on quickish hard in Brisbane and on clay in Barcelona and I would give Nishikori a slight edge in any case.
The world number 11, who has already risen to number eight in the rankings and will rise to number five if he wins the title, has always been a major winner in the making, but the big doubts were always about his fitness.
Ironically, in the fortnight that he came in saying he was struggling, he’s put some of those doubts to bed – or he will do if he can produce one more big effort on Monday.
Always a fantastic ball striker, he’s added more pop to his forehand under coach Michael Chang and now he’s a complete all-round player, with a fine temperament to boot.
As well as Cilic has been playing I don’t put him quite in the same category and in the biggest match of either of their lives it might come down to temperament, and I can see Cilic struggling the more of the pair.
In the match odds I’m leaning towards either Nishikori with a little to spare or over the total games mark of 41.5 here.
There hasn’t been a straight sets final here since Federer defeated Andy Murray back in 2008 and in a match like this, with two first time major finalists – Cilic hasn’t made as much as a Masters 1000 final or semi-final before – the nerves will surely be a big factor.
It will help of course that they each have former major winners as coaches, but they can only do so much and I get the feeling that NIshikori will handle this better.
A close four-setter would see the overs bet home, but one tanked set and it could be in tatters, so the Nishikori minus 1.5 sets at 2.55 looks a better option at a bigger price.
Back Nishikori –1.5 sets to beat Cilic at 2.55